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Blind Paralympian Jeremy McClure and team pull out of record Abrolhos-Geraldton swim after 16 hours

Jessica MoroneyMidwest Times
Jeremy McClure and Rachel Rowland after the swim
Camera IconJeremy McClure and Rachel Rowland after the swim Credit: Jeremy McClure - Paralympian

Blind Paralympian Jeremy McClure has been reflecting on his aborted bid to swim 53km from the Abrolhos to Geraldton on the weekend, but he’s already thinking about having another go at the record swim.

No amount of planning could prepare for the challenge Mr McClure faced, battling treacherous conditions in his bid to achieve what has never been done before — a 53km open water swim from the Abrolhos to Geraldton.

Leaving from the Abrolhos’ Hummock Island on Saturday afternoon, Mr McClure had to give up with only 12km remaining due to the unsafe trajectory and his support team becoming sick. But he’s already thinking about having another crack at the record swim.

The legally blind four-time Paralympian’s last challenge was 36km from Dirk Hartog Island to Denham which he completed in just over 12 hours and 20 minutes.

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On Sunday, he swam 41km, taking him around 16 hours — a new personal best.

Heavy rain made it impossible for the guide swimmers to stay warm on their break, resulting in most of the crew becoming sick, shivery and unable to continue.

The strong swell and waves pounding over Mr McClure early in the first kilometre meant he would complete the remaining 40km facing the sky in backstroke, as it was near-impossible to breathe while freestyle swimming.

“I’m very sore, I’ve got a lot of sore muscles — all the salt water I’ve swallowed affects your voice,” he said.

Mr McClure said fundraising for Guide Dogs WA was a large part of why he competed in challenges like this, and asked that people support his cause.

“This fundraiser holds a close place in my heart, it’s for Guide Dogs WA who have supported me with Nina as my second guide dog,” he said.

Geraldton’s winter swell didn’t scare Mr McClure away for good, saying he was eager to attempt the swim again, this time until the end.

“I was happy with my efforts, considering the conditions — the big open ocean — it’s pretty rough,” he said.

“There were quite a few communicative issues we could work on as a team.

“With 33 people on board — with four boats, all the skippers, swimmers, kayakers and other on-board crew — the possibility of things not going smoothly with everything is a lot higher.”

Mr McClure said he needed to pull a team together before he could decide when the next attempt would be, but he didn’t want to wait long as he was in good form now.

Swimming support worker Rachel Rowland said she swam a total of seven hours and a distance of 23km.

Ms Rowland was due to complete another two, but found herself unable continue, a large part because of asthma.

“The weather was challenging — the waves, getting knocked off the side, pushed into each other a lot — and it was lot worse when it got dark and our visibility dropped,” she said.

“When the rain came, and when we lost the moonlight — our visibility went from bad to almost nothing.”

Ms Rowland said the main reason the crew were struggling was because of sea sickness, exhaustion and inability to transfer to the rescue boat due to weather conditions.

“The rescue boat couldn’t get safely to the main boat, I think the rescue boat got a puncture on the front trying to approach one of the times,” she said.

Ms Rowland said despite the extreme weather, she believed Mr McClure would have finished the challenge.

“Even if we didn’t make it to the particular beach we’d planned, I have absolutely no doubt he could have finished the race.”

To donate to Guide Dogs WA visit https://www.mycause.com.au/ or for Mr McClure’s next big swim visit https://www.gofundme.com/.

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